There aren’t enough books out there like Mitali Perkins’ Rickshaw Girl. In a very slim volume, pitched at early Middle Grade readers, Perkins introduces us to Bangladeshi culture, its traditions and changing society. What makes this book especially fine is that Perkins has created a story for young readers that has real substance (you might say it tackles some “issues”), but it is also just right for readers who have only begun to explore longer texts on their own.
Naima is a not a child anymore, but not quite yet a young woman. Her family is happy and caring, but they don’t have much. Her father is a rickshaw driver, and he must work very long, hard days in spite of poor health, in order to support his family. Naima becomes more and more frustrated at the limitations placed upon her, simply because she is a girl. She wishes she could do more to help her family thrive, but she feels trapped because she is not a boy. She is a talented artist, however, and paints inspired alpana designs on her family’s home. Naima soon faces challenges that force her to question her identity and her passion for art.
Rickshaw Girl will be an excellent read aloud title for families and classrooms too. The glossary and notes at the back of the book help to contextualize the culture in a way that is completely accessible for children, and Jamie Hogan’s textured pastel illustrations weave seamlessly into the story. I see Rickshaw Girl as a not so distant young cousin to Deborah Ellis’ more mature, and much celebrated Breadwinner sequence. Hopefully Perkins’ book will prepare and inspire young readers to continue their exploration of different cultures and experiences through reading.